Eternal Flames: Living Memories of the Pacific War, will be instrumental in helping scholars around the world confront major issues facing the global humanities including not only problems of language and cultural barriers, translation, and successful communication between diverse groups in different nations, but also broader issues such as internationalizing certain research and curricular development, utilizing user created digital sites to conduct meta-research into the nature of the research process itself, and direct investigation into the history-memory conundrum so perplexing to humanities discussions today. At a specific topical level, the community of research scholars and the concomitant web site are designed to promote on-going transnational, trans-Pacific dialogue among a range of scholars, students, war survivors (whose memories we are racing against time to capture before they die), artists and other members of the public about the ways that all societies affected by World War II have struggled to render the experience(s) meaningful and how these memories/experiences affect national and international developments even today.
The emerging site is called Eternal Flames in direct reference to one of the most common motifs of modern memorial sites: the installation of an “eternal flame” as a key symbolic marker (such as at Arlington National Cemetery, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Okinawa Cornerstone of Peace). The symbol captures simultaneously the ephemerality of the past in the immateriality of fire, the enduring significance of the past for the present, the way that the past can illuminate the present, and the responsibility of the present to remember the past.)
The transnational nature of our work demands that we deal in substantive ways with the issue of language. For example, one of the great barriers to cross cultural communication and research is the problem posed by uneven language acquisition. For cross-cultural study in any field that aspires to involve a large number of participants in a collective endeavor without a common language or attempts to expand cross-cultural analysis to more than two societies, the problem of language barriers becomes debilitating. Yet given the global importance of an event such as WWII, any attempt to study comprehensively the memories of the event in the impacted societies requires more languages than any single researcher realistically can master. Moreover, since this project seeks to expand research resources by mobilizing the knowledge, experience and motivations of a wider public that is interested in WWII memories, the language barrier must be addressed directly.
Eternal Flames addresses these problems by integrating the features of a web-based digital archive, a wiki, and an online forum into a single platform. We harness the liveliness of serialized social interaction (such as that found in forums, newsfeeds, and blogs) but organize these activities around the creation of enduring knowledge objects (in this case, wiki entries that add multilingual context to individually authored archive memory-posts). What we are building is not a typical hybrid—such as that associated with familiar content management systems—but rather a social media “chimera” where features of archive, wiki, and forum appear contiguously on the same page so that they can “talk” to each other in a way that has not yet been possible.
Central to this “chimera” structure is the pairing of individual archive-posts alongside community wikis. This pairing is not merely conceptual but represents a literal side-by-side view as navigators browse our “living” archive. Individually authored posts will exist alongside wiki entries that transcribe, translate, tag, and otherwise add context to the author’s post. In addition, a forum thread in the lower third of the page will allow users to mobilize multiple languages and to discuss simultaneously the post and wiki sections in relation to each other. Finally, a newsfeed will highlight active changes made to the wiki as well as “calls for contribution” requesting specific input like translation. In this way, we will take advantage of two features of social media that have traditionally been separated: (1) the social feedback loop of a lively author-audience interaction and (2) the production of enduring knowledge objects through collective action. By pairing these two types of media on the same page we will allow them to communicate, thus enabling the kind of interaction required for collaborative translation and cross-cultural negotiation.
Within this architecture, we are collaborating with computer scientists, digital artists and linguists to further enrich our site’s translingual goals. Working with engineers at University of Maryland and UC Santa Cruz, we will develop a tool for “Multilingual Information Access” (MLIA) that will allow site users to locate materials within the site in languages they cannot read, thus enabling new kinds of research inquiries. These tools build upon a complex database architecture that integrates multiple language sets and providing an entryway for users to begin to concretely envision the dimensions and contours of memory discourses in other languages. Working with digital artists and linguists, we will also develop tools and protocols for employing and researching “large scale conversations” that can provide further clues to users as to how to engage the user community in translation tasks.
Eternal Flames, will help individuals and groups around the world confront major issues facing global international rights activism including not only problems of language and cultural barriers, translation, and successful communication between diverse groups in different nations, but also broader issues such as internationalizing research and curricular development, utilizing user-created digital sites to conduct meta-research into the nature of the research process itself, and direct investigation into the history-memory conundrum. The community of researchers and the website will promote on-going transnational, trans-Pacific dialogue among a range of scholars, students, war survivors (whose memories we are racing against time to capture before they die), activists, artists and other members of the public about the ways that all societies affected by World War II have struggled to render the experience(s) meaningful and how these memories/experiences affect national and international developments even today.